Huffpost Politics

GOP Debate: Republican Presidential Candidates Face Off In Florida (LIVE UPDATES)

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Nine candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination are facing off in a primary debate in Florida on Thursday night.

The two-hour event is sponsored by Fox News and Google. GOP contenders participating in the forum include: U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

The debate will mark the third of the election season for Perry since the White House hopeful announced his candidacy for president of the United States. Despite leading the GOP primary pack in national polls, the Lone Star State Republican has found himself having to fend off an increasing number of attacks from rival contenders in recent weeks.

Below, a live blog of the latest developments to unfold in Thursday night's debate in Florida.

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@ mlcalderone : Limbaugh today: “My dogs have created more shovel-ready work than Obama has just this week alone”

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Darrelle Owens from Richmond, Va., wanted to know from each candidate which member of the GOP field they'd take as their vice president, if they had to. What? This old question again?

Gary Johnson would choose Ron Paul and form libertarian Voltron.

Santorum would "pick someone who would do what I articulated what I would like to do," who was Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich said he was "going to disappoint everyone who wanted this to be a Hollywood game" and not pick a running mate. But the only person he was disappointing was poor Darrelle Owens, who thought he asked a reasonable question.

Ron Paul left Gary Johnson unrequited, saying that until he was "one of the top two contenders," he would "defer."

Perry said that he would take Herman Cain and "make him up with" Newt Gingrich (so, a white Herman Cain, basically).

Romney wouldn't pick, saying that Perry's example left him with some mental images he could not push from his mind. Bachmann also opted to not pick anyone on the stage.

Herman Cain said he would "play the game," and said that Romney "had a shot" if he would throw out his own economic plan and adopt the "9-9-9 plan." If not, then Newt.

Huntsman, who said that he thought Romney and Perry would probably (hopefully, if you're Huntsman!) "bludgeon each other to death," picked Herman Cain because of the color of his tie and because the two men were standing together. He added that he would combine Cain's "9-9-9 plan" with his own tax plan (so, a white "9-9-9 plan," basically).

-- Jason Linkins

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Rick Perry pushed back on the suggestion that Texas is to blame, not the federal government, for the state having an exceedingly high rate of uninsured residents, and said he is proud of the state's current system.

Host Chris Wallace said he looked into claims Perry has made in the past about the federal government imposing different restrictions on Texas than on other states that make it harder to insure poor people. It turns out the feds treat Texas just like other states, Wallace said, despite Perry saying the federal government is to blame for the state ranking 49th in Medicaid coverage of low-income residents.

"I disagree with your analysis," Perry said. "We've had a request in for the federal government so we could have a Medicaid waiver for years. The federal government has stopped us from having that Medicaid waiver."

Perry went on to say that states should have "a menu of options" for creating their own health care delivery systems and that he is "proud of what we put together in the state of Texas."

"That is how we go forward with our health care. Each state deciding how they're going to deliver that health care. Not one size fits all," he added.

-- Jennifer Bendery

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Michele Bachmann went after Rick Perry again for his 2007 executive order mandating that young girls receive the vaccine against HPV, a sexually transmitted disease that is the leading cause of cervical cancer.

She distanced herself slightly, however, from the claim that the vaccine could cause mental retardation. Host Chris Wallace pointed out to Bachmann that medical professionals believe the vaccine is very safe.

"I didn't make that claim, nor did I make that statement," Bachmann said. "Immediately after a debate a mother came up to me, and she was visibly shaken and heartbroken because of what her daughter had gone through. I only related what her story was."

She added that Perry "gave parental rights to a big drug company. That big drug company gave him campaign contributions and hired his former chief of staff to lobby him to benefit the big drug company. That's what was wrong with that picture."

Perry replied that he was lobbied on the issue -- by a 31-year-old woman who had stage four cervical cancer and supported the mandatory vaccination. Perry repeated that he now believes it should have been an opt-in program -- instead of an opt-out one -- but he still had "erred on the side of life."

Perry has received at least ,500 in campaign contributions from the drugmaker Merck, which manufactures the HPV vaccine.

-- Amanda Terkel

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Michele Bachmann returned to her charge of crony capitalism against Rick Perry, accusing him again of mandating an HPV vaccine after Merck, the drugmaker, "hired his former chief of staff to lobby him."

"I got lobbied on this issue. I got lobbied by a 31-year-old woman who had stage four cervical cancer," responded Perry, saying he "erred on the side of life."

HuffPost's Jason Cherkis and Paul Blumenthal found that Merck wasn't the only firm to benefit from hiring an ex-Perry staffer.

Merck began a state-by-state push to get governments to adopt HPV vaccine mandates after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the vaccine for use in 2006. The company stood to make hundreds of millions of dollars if its mandate drive succeeded. They hired top lobbyists in a number of states. In Texas, Merck naturally came to Toomey.

"Absolutely Mike [Toomey] convinced [Perry] on that," Bill Miller, a founding partner of the Austin lobbying powerhouse HillCo Partners told HuffPost. The firm has done work on behalf of top-tier conservative donors, such as Houston construction mogul and swift-boat funder Bob Perry (no relation) and Koch Industries. "Maybe he personally believes in that ... Mike played an influential role. It's just the way I read it, the nature of the deal."

Amid widespread outrage over Toomey's lobbying -- and fervent opposition from religious conservatives who opposed the order on the belief that it encouraged promiscuity among young teens -- the Texas legislature repealed Perry's order in a near unanimous vote. Despite the ultimate failure to enact the vaccine mandate, Merck still retains Toomey as a lobbyist and has paid him contracts worth between 0,000 and 0,000 from 2004 through 2011.

-- Ryan Grim

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Megyn Kelly dropped a YouTube clip on Rick Santorum, a question from Steven Hill, a soldier in Iraq who, up until this week, had to "lie about who [he] was" in order to serve in the army.

Santorum provided Hill no succor, saying that the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" injected "social engineering" into the military.

SANTORUM: I would say any type of sexual activity has absolutely no place in the military. The fact they are making a point to include it as a provision within the military that we are going to recognize a group of people and give them a special privilege to, and removing don't ask don’t tell. I think tries to inject social policy into the military. And the military's job is to do one thing: to defend our country...

KELLY: What would you do with soldiers like Steven Hill?

SANTORUM: What we are doing is playing social experimentation with our military right now. That’s tragic. I would just say that going forward we would reinstitute that policy if Rick Santorum was president. That policy would be re-instituted as far as people in, I would not throw them out because that would be unfair to them because of the policy of this administration. But we would move forward in conformity with what was happening in the past. Which was- sex is not an issue. It should not be an issue. Leave it alone. Keep it to yourself whether you are heterosexual or homosexual.

Of course, the big news of the exchange will once again be about an audience reaction. After Fox cut back from the clip of Hill, several members of the audience were heard, in a shocking demonstration of disrespect for one of our soldiers, lustily booing him. Very sad.

Sidenote: Fred Karger responded to that exchange by telling the Huffington Post, "Santorum is truly nuts. Just Google him. Congress repealed DADT. Federal court found it unconstitutional."

-- Jason Linkins

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Gary Johnson just got a question on whether he'd support re-engaging with Cuba. But Gary Johnson's just going to answer the question any way he likes! So, before we get to Cuba, Johnson notes that the "biggest threat to our national security is that we're bankrupt" and so he'd promise to submit balanced budgets as president. When he finally got around to answering on Cuba, Johnson said that "trade creates friendship" and so it would be preferable to open ties to Cuba.

The moderators had it in mind to move on, but Michele Bachmann piped up, saying she wanted to respond to the question, too. As you might expect, Bachmann was against restoring relations with Cuba, because they were on the "state sponsors of terror" list. Which raised the question: what is Cuba going to terrorize the United States with, exactly? Sugar cane? Guajira music? Why, in Cuba, we're starting to see rudimentary entrepreneurial markets!

-- Jason Linkins

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Rick Santorum attempted to distinguish himself from his fellow candidates on foreign policy, by coming out strongly against withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The U.S. is set to withdraw from Iraq at the end of the year, although a number of troops may stay there to continue assisting Iraqis. When asked whether he would be in favor of sending troops back to Iraq if the situation over there were to "fall apart" in 2012, Rick Santorum replied that he doesn't want to withdraw troops in the first place.

"I'm not for taking them out of the region," said Santorum. "Our generals are being clear we need to continue to stabilize Iraq. ... I'm hearing numbers of 20-- 30,000 troops potentially to remain in Iraq -- not indefinitely -- but to continue to make sure this is a stable transition. This is the difference between Congressman Paul, Gov. Huntsman, Gov. Perry and myself when it comes to the issue. I stand up and say when we engage in Iraq and Afghanistan, we engage because we want to be successful. We want victory. We want to have accomplished a national security objective for this country."

Jon Huntsman received cheers from the audience when he said that it's time to bring U.S troops home.

"I believe that after 10 years of fighting the war on terror, people are ready to bring our troops home from Afghanistan. ... This country has given its all," Huntsman said.

-- Amanda Terkel

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Rick Perry went on the defense on the topic of immigration, but stood behind his support for a bill that provided in-state tuition to some undocumented students.

"If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no reason than they've been brought there, by no fault of their own, I don't think you have a heart," he said. "I still support it greatly."

The other candidates piled on Perry, criticizing him for his support for the in-state tuition bill. The bill allows some undocumented students, who went to high school in Texas and are working toward legal status, to qualify for in-state tuition at Texas state colleges.

"You're sort of making this leap that unless the taxpayers subsidize it they won't be able to go," Rick Santorum said. "The point is, why are we subsidizing this? … Why should they be given preferential treatment as an illegal in this country?"

"Yes, I would say that he is soft on illegal immigration," he added.

Perry's statements on the border fence were also a point of contention. While the others said the border must be secured with a fence, Perry argued a fence would not work as well as boots on the ground.

The most substantive question was about E-Verify, an employment verification program already used by federal agencies and contractors to screen for undocumented workers. Newt Gingrich said he would support making the program nationwide, as some House Republicans hope to do, and dismissed worries that it would cost employers.

"We'd be far better off to outsource E-Verify to American Express and Mastercard and Visa because they actually know how to run a program like that without massive fraud," Gingrich said. "Second, the program should be as easy as swiping your card to buy gasoline, so I would ask of employers, what is it you would object to?"

-- Elise Foley

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Here is the transcript of the key exchange between Perry and Romney on Social Security, Romney's health care plan, and the two governor's books:

GOV. PERRY: Well, let me just say first, for those people that are on Social Security today, for those people that are approaching Social Security, they don't have anything in the world to worry about. We have made a solemn oath to the people of this country that that Social Security program in place today will be there for them. Now, it's not the first time that Mitt's been wrong on some issues before. And the bottom line is, is we never said that we were going to move this back to the states. What we said was we ought to have as one of the options -- the state employees and the state retirees, they being able to go off of the current system onto one that the states would operate themselves. As a matter of fact, in Massachusetts, his home state, almost 96 percent of the people who are on that program, retirees and state people, are off of the Social Security program. So having that option out there to have the states -- Louisiana does it -- almost every state has their state employees and the retirees -- that are options to go off of Social Security. That makes sense. It's an option that we should have.

MS. KELLY: Governor Romney, are you satisfied with that?

MR. ROMNEY: Well, it's different than what the governor put in his book just -- what, six months ago and what you said on your interviews following the book. So I don't know -- there's a Rick Perry out there that's saying that it -- almost to quote, it says that -- that -- that the federal government shouldn't be in the pension business, that it's unconstitutional -- unconstitutional, and it should be returned to the states. So you'd better find that Rick Perry and get him to stop saying that. (Laughter, cheers, applause) Now, my own -- my own view is -- my own view is that we have to make it very, very clear that Social Security is a responsibility of the federal government, not the state governments, that we're going to have one plan, and we're going to make sure that it's fiscally sound and stable. And I'm absolutely committed to keeping Social Security working. I've put in my book that I wrote a couple of years ago a plan for how we can do that to make sure Social Security is stable not just for the next 25 years but for the next 75. Thank you. (Applause.)

GOV. PERRY: And I would like to respond to that.

MS. KELLY: Go ahead, Governor Perry.

GOV. PERRY: Speaking of books and talking about being able to have things in your books and back and forth, your economic adviser talked about "Romneycare" and how that was an absolute bust, and it was exactly what "Obamacare" was all about. As a matter of fact, between books, your hard copy book, you said that it was exactly what the American people needed to have -- that's "Romneycare" -- given to them as you had in Massachusetts. Then in your paperback, you took that line out. (Cheers, applause.) So, speaking of not getting it

straight in your book, sir -- (inaudible). (Cheers, applause.)

MS. KELLY: Governor Romney?

GOV. PERRY: (You've/he's ?) got a bad memory.

MR. ROMNEY: Governor Perry? Governor Perry, we were -- we were talking about Social Security, but if you want to talk about health care, I'm happy to do that.

MR. BAIER: We are going to have a round on --

MR. ROMNEY: I actually -- I actually wrote my book, and in my book I said no such thing. What I said -- actually, when I put my health care plan together -- and I met with Dan Balz, for instance, of The Washington Post. He said, is this a plan that if you were president you would put on the nation, have the whole nation adopt it? I said, absolutely not. I said, this is a state plan for a state, it is not a national plan. And it's fine for you to retreat from your own words in your own book, but please don't try and make me retreat from the words that I wrote in my book. I stand by what I wrote. I believe in what I did. And I believe that the people -- (bell rings) -- of this country can read my book and see exactly what it is. Thank you. (Cheers, applause.)

-- Jon Ward reporting from Florida

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It's a little odd that with Mitt Romney co-opting Michele Bachmann's "magnets" term for the forces that induce people to immigrate to the country illegally, that no one on the stage remembers this old nugget from Romney's past:

Standing on stage at a Republican debate on the Gulf Coast of Florida last week, Mitt Romney repeatedly lashed out at rival Rudy Giuliani for providing sanctuary to illegal immigrants in New York City.

Yet, the very next morning, on Thursday, at least two illegal immigrants stepped out of a hulking maroon pickup truck in the driveway of Romney's Belmont house, then proceeded to spend several hours raking leaves, clearing debris from Romney's tennis court, and loading the refuse back on to the truck.

In fact, their work was part of a regular pattern. Despite a Globe story in Dec. 2006 that highlighted Romney's use of illegal immigrants to tend to his lawn, Romney continued to employ the same landscaping company -- until today. The landscaping company, in turn, continued to employ illegal immigrants.

This would have been a good time for someone to have remembered that at one point, Mitt's own "sanctuary mansions" were magnets for undocumented workers.

-- Jason Linkins

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Rick Perry pushed back on accusations by Mitt Romney that he supports each state creating its own independent system of Social Security.

"The bottom line is, we never said we were going to move this back to the states," Perry said.

Rather, he said, state employees and state retirees should have the option to "go off of Social Security." In Romney's home state of Massachusetts, for example, "almost 96 percent of ... people who are on that program, retirees and state people, are off the Social Security program," he said.

Perry appears to be referring to state workers who receive state pensions, and are thus ineligible for Social Security.

He added that people on Social Security right now shouldn't be worried about losing their benefits under his proposal. "We have made a solemn oath to the people of this country that the Social Security program in place today will be there for them," he said.

-- Jennifer Bendery

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Mitt Romney continues to walk a tight rope with respect to winning the primary campaign and positioning himself for the subsequent general election. Earlier in Thursday night's debate he refused, pointedly, to call President Obama a "socialist," choosing instead to say he has been inspired by the socialist-leaning government of Europe.

Later, he was pressed by Rick Perry about his support for the Obama administration's education initiative, race for the top, which uses federal money to incentivize school reform from within and generate stronger test scores.

Romney proclaimed that he had no clue where Perry had gotten the idea that he supported the initiative. But he ended the discussion by doing something rare in a GOP debate: complimenting the job done by an Obama administration official, Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Virtually every other candidate asked about the topic said that they would eliminate the Department of Education.

-- Sam Stein reporting from Florida

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One of the top 10 video questions submitted online and voted on by the public, according to Fox host Megyn Kelly, was which federal department the candidates would eliminate. Herman Cain said -- to loud cheers -- that he would get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency:

The first department, if I were forced to eliminate a department -- I would start with the EPA and start all over. It's out of control. Now I know that makes some people nervous. But the EPA has gone wild. The fact that they have a regulation that goes into effect Jan. 1, 2012, to regulate dust, says they've gone too far. Rather than try to fix it, eliminate all of the things that they have right now. Then start rebuilding a responsible EPA.

In past debates, other GOP candidates have also gone after the EPA and called for its elimination.

-- Amanda Terkel

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Megyn Kelly asked Mitt Romney if he thought Barack Obama was a socialist, because Michele Bachmann says he is a socialist and Rick Perry says he is a socialist and New Gingrich says he is a socialist. (The facts say that "U.S. corporate profits hit an all-time high at the end of 2010, with financial firms showing some of the biggest gains," so this would be an extremely odd version of "socialism," if true.)

Romney offered that Obama is a "big spending liberal who takes his inspiration from Europe, socialist democrats in Europe."

If this seems like an oddball question, the reason it was asked is because in an interview yesterday with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Romney said:

Well, you know, words have a lot of unintended meanings, and calling people socialists probably goes on the fact that it is true that President Obama's team and the president himself seem to believe that government has a better approach to our economy than does the private sector, and I disagree with that approach.

I believe we have to have a government that's a partner, that is encouraging the private sector, encouraging freedom, encouraging free people. What they've done instead is add regulation, add taxation, add burdens to the free enterprise system, which does tend to make us more European. And Europe isn't working in Europe; Europe is not going to work in this country.

I don't use the word socialist or I haven't so far, but I do agree that the president's approach is government heavy, government intensive, and it's not working.

Romney essentially went on to repeat that answer tonight.

-- Jason Linkins

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Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) is in the audience tonight, and he received a shout-out from Rick Perry in the beginning. During the first commercial break, Fox News also aired a video message from Scott, who said, "It is my belief the next president will be the candidate to articulate a plan for getting the economy back on the right track and inspire confidence in the hearts and minds of all Americans."

-- Amanda Terkel

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One YouTube question involved the voguish "tentherism" that's going around conservative circles these days. The debate moderators kicked the question right to Ron Paul, who had a succinct answer.

"The responsibility of the president is to veto every single bill that violates the tenth amendment," Paul said.

"You have a little more time," urged Wallace.

So, Paul monologued a bit, building to this crescendo: "The government has no authority to control our schools, no authority to control the economy, no authority to control our lives." The Paulites in the audience rejoiced.

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson has a unique perspective on the matter, saying that he made a commitment to actually run the state and present a balanced budget every year he was in office. However, he did offer, "I think I vetoed more bills than any governor in the United States, maybe all the governors combined."

It would have been nice to throw the "tenther" question to, say, Rick Perry, rather than put it exclusively to the two libertarian candidates. We already know what Ron Paul thinks about the role of the federal government as it relates to the Tenth Amendment!

-- Jason Linkins

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In response to a question about how much of every dollar a person should be able to keep versus the government taking taxes out of it, Michele Bachmann responded with a peculiar answer: All of it.

"You've earned every dollar, you should get to keep every dollar," Bachmann said.

Bachmann described a scenario in which, somehow, people would keep every dollar they earn but also contribute money to the government to help run it. Her underlying message was that the private sector should drive the economy, which didn't quite translate with her example but got her applause nonetheless.

"Obviously we have to give money back to run the government. But we have to have a completely different mindset," she said. "The American people are the geniuses of this economy. It certainly isn't the government that's the genius."

-- Jennifer Bendery

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Unprompted, the Ron Paul campaign went after Rick Perry just now in a press release, saying he has his own version of Solyndra, the failed energy company that got federal subsidies from the Obama administration.

"Taking a page out of the Obama playbook, Perry also made his own special deal with 'green' companies," the Paul release says, citing the example of Heliovolt.

Here is the rest of the release:

"Austin, Texas-based HelioVolt has scored M from the Texas Enterprise Fund, Texas Governor Rick Perry said Tuesday, as part of a deal to construct a 125,000 square foot [solar panel] manufacturing facility in Austin. According to Perry, the deal for the manufacturing facility will create nearly 160 jobs in Texas." (Texas Tech Pulse. April 16, 2008)

"HelioVolt's investment in this alternative energy technology will not only create more jobs in Texas but also help our state remain at the forefront of the renewable energy market." (U.S. Department of Energy)

Just like Solyndra, HelioVolt’s success was paid for unknowingly by the taxpayer. And just like Obama’s Solyndra, Perry’s HelioVolt made empty promises of more jobs.

And as of April 2011, HelioVolt Corp. has put itself up for sale. (April 14, 2011. Reuters)

"Ten years since their founding and about 0 million in venture funding later, HelioVolt has shipped no commercial product of consequence." (September 19, 2011. Green Tech Media)

Of course you may recall Solyndra's fate.

"Solyndra filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Wednesday, August 31, despite 5 million in federal loans. Solyndra’s bankruptcy declaration left 1,100 workers without a job." (September 21, 2011. The State Column)

Both companies took government loans. Both companies failed. Both companies gained funding through political influence.

"HelioVolt received Texas Enterprise Fund support in 2008 to expand its solar panel plant. The company missed its target of creating 153 jobs by the end of 2009. The company did report 75 jobs at the end of last year, but Texans for Public Justice said that figure included 35 jobs the company had before it got state funds. "The revised 40 jobs met the amended contract terms, but fell short of the company’s original promise, the report said.

"The state imposed a ,560 penalty on HelioVolt, the report said." (Austin American-Statesman)

-- Jon Ward reporting from Florida

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Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was asked during Thursday night's debate what he would do about unemployment insurance, particularly in regard to those unemployed workers who had exhausted their 99 weeks of benefits.

Gingrich called for reform in the current system so that each state would have the ability to create its own worker-incentive program in exchange for insurance payments -- something that the Obama administration has gravitated toward doing in the jobs package the president recently presented.

Then, however, the former speaker suggested that benefits were being abused by people who were more interested in living off the government dime than in finding actual work.

"It is fundamentally wrong to give people money for 99 weeks for doing nothing," he said.

Most studies of unemployment insurance have showed that lethargy is not a side effect of providing help to the unemployed. The money that is being distributed simply doesn't cover the salary lost from not having a job. The more cynical minded would argue that Gingrich's condemnation of welfare insurance resembles the type of class warfare that Republicans are often deriding... only in reverse.

-- Sam Stein reporting from Florida

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In response to a question submitted by the public about whether the candidates would support so called "right to work" laws that weaken unions, Rick Santorum said he actually would get rid of public unions completely.

"I do not believe that state, federal workers, or local workers...should be involved in unions," Santorum said. "I would actually support a bill saying that we should not have public employee unions for the purposes of wages and benefits being negotiated."

--Amanda Terkel

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Bret Baier attempted to get Mitt Romney to define for the audience what amount of money one has to have to be considered "rich." Romney begged off, saying, "I don't want to define what is rich...I want everybody to be rich." Well, that's going to be quite a task to undertake as president. Via Business Insider:

A handy way to define the rich might be to start with that line at the top.

More here.

-- Jason Linkins

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So far, my fears that Google would take Fox's debate in a terrible "CNN direction" haven't come to pass, but the night is young. Bret Baier managed to very efficiently introduce the candidates like a normal human being and explain what's going on tonight without torturing us with reality show-style montages. (The Google bell sound could prove to be just as tiresome as the last bell they used, but I'll give it a chance.)

Of course, without the CNN introduction montage, I guess I have no idea which candidate is "THE FIGHTER" and which one is "THE DIPLOMAT."

-- Jason Linkins

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The Perry campaign has launched a new Twitter account -- @PerryTruthTeam -- to send out "real-time updates concerning statements" during the debate. Normally the campaign sends out updates to its press list during the debate, responding to comments made by Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann or the other candidates. But the new Twitter account shows that they'll likely be responding more frequently -- and in fewer characters.

-- Amanda Terkel

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In advance of tonight's debate, the Democratic National Committee put out a video calling out Mitt Romney for hypocrisy on the American Jobs Act and sending him a "thank you" for his previous support for provisions he now says he opposes.

In an interview with Newsmax, Romney criticized President Obama's plan, saying it was "a lot of money, a lot of political bluster but very little positive impact on the economy."

The DNC's video has old footage of Romney supporting provisions that are contained in the Jobs Act.


-- Amanda Terkel

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As we've seen at prior debates, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry can be goaded until whipping out their jobs record and testing it for heft. Tonight, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson rejoins the debate fray, with the opportunity to claim alpha-dog status on the job creation front. He'll have the backing of the National Review:

While all the GOP contenders are quick to hit the “jobs, jobs, jobs” mantra, the former governors running for president have very different records on job creation. According to a National Review Online analysis of seasonally adjusted employment data (looking at the total number of those employed) from the Bureau of Labor website, Gary Johnson has the best record of the official candidates, with a job-growth rate of 11.6 percent during his tenure.

Other candidates could, if they like, quibble over the time frame in which those jobs were created. As Katrina Trinko points out, Johnson's 1995-2003 tenure, "doesn’t overlap much with the other governors." Still, you shouldn't be surprised if Johnson makes the comparison.

-- Jason Linkins

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The expectation here in Orlando is that Rick Perry is going to attack Mitt Romney hard tonight. The reason is simple: he has to change the dynamic. (My piece this morning has more on this).

The dynamic is that, as Perry said in the first debate, he's been a pinata. Romney's been doing most of the bashing on Perry, but Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum have gotten in some good whacks as well.

So Perry will have to go on offense. He's had a hard time getting anything he's thrown at Romney to stick. This is largely because Romney went through this blender of a vetting process four years ago when he first ran. Perry is the new guy, he's got a long record, and so the press and the public want to see how he responds to criticism of the major points of weakness in that record.

One emerging theme of Perry's attempt to bring Romney down is almost, you could say, a class warfare tack: Romney is rich and out of touch. Perry was, as he likes to say, "not born with four aces in my hand."

The Perry campaign sent out a press release a few minutes ago making fun of Romney by calling him "Middle Class Mitt." It's a play on Romney's goofy line on Wednesday, when he made a comment in which he identified as a member of the middle class, despite having a net worth of between 0 and 0 million.

"Hundreds of millions in the bank. Beach and lake houses around the country. A successful career acquiring and dismantling companies and jobs. Will Middle Class Mitt again grace the stage in the Sunshine State?" the Perry release said.

-- Jon Ward reporting from Florida

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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry asked a ballroom full of enthusiastic Republican activists and voters Thursday to pray for him and give him their vote, but also said they should pray that God shows President Obama that he is misguided.

The supplication he told them to offer up for the president was that God would "open his eyes" -- and came after he had lambasted Obama for presiding over a "nanny-state."

"As a governor who's made a great deal of decisions with consequences over the years, I couldn't have done so without being driven to my knees on many occasions. As I campaign for president, I not only ask you for your vote and your support, I ask you for your prayers," Perry

said. "I ask you to pray for our country. I ask you to pray for our president, to give him wisdom, to open his eyes."

Perry was speaking to a "Faith and Freedom" rally a few hours before an important debate between him and the other Republican presidential candidates here. And his call to pray for Obama came after he ran through a list of the administration's policies and criticized them.

"Last month the Obama administration, they had the audacity to call food stamps a stimulus," Perry said. "Food stamps are a symptom of the problem, Mr. President, they're not the solution. And the problem is too many Americans can't find work today because of this administration's big government policies."

"The problem with the liberals is they think there is a government answer to every problem, and they think Washington knows best, even when the Constitution is very clear about what belongs to the states," Perry said.

He then criticized Obama's "Race to the Top" program, which rewarded a few state school systems for reform innovations with millions in grant money. Perry did not see this as creating competition among school systems to improve performance, and pointed out that the money being awarded came out of the taxpayer's pocket to begin with.

"It is wrong for the federal government to take over local schools," he said, calling for the states to have more decision-making power in education.

Moments after his call for voters to pray that Obama be shown the error of his policies, however, Perry said that God is not on the side of any political party.

"And I ask for the prayers for the health and the healing of a country that will transcend party politics, as does our creator, whose purposes and ways cannot be coopted by any political party," Perry said. He then quoted former President Abraham Lincoln: "My concern is not whether God is on my side. My greatest concern is to be on God's side." The crowd of a few thousand rose and cheered.

-- Jon Ward

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HuffPost's Jon Ward and Jason Cherkis report:

Rick Perry leads national polls in the Republican presidential primary, but he has been battered so much this month that if his third debate on Thursday night goes as roughly as his first two, he could be in some trouble.

Perry's advantage over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has been cut roughly in half over the last two weeks. Attacks on him from Romney and other candidates have taken their toll, raising questions about whether Perry is as good as first advertised, and more importantly, whether he can beat President Obama in the general election.

"[The 2012 election] will be less about our nominee, as long as our nominee is not scary," said a prominent Ohio Republican, who asked that he not be identified in order to speak more frankly about Perry's weaknesses.

Perry's Social Security comments, in particular, have spooked Republican officials in numerous key swing states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and elsewhere. These Republicans agree with the Texan's sentiment that the government-administered system of retirement accounts needs to be reformed; most would even want it partially privatized. But they cringe at Perry's implying Social Security might not be constitutional, at his casual mentions of possibly sending the program to the state level, and at his provocative rhetoric –- calling it a "Ponzi scheme" and "monstrous lie" -- which they think would be used in their states as a battering ram against Perry and other candidates down the ballot in the last few weeks of the general election.

Even if Perry releases a full and comprehensive plan for Social Security, the Ohio Republican "fear[s] it would be overshadowed."

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